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Milwaukee Progress Report with Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton

by Jimi Russell / Nashville Predators

-- The Ads are a quarter of the way through the 2012-13 season --

The Nashville Predators primary developmental team, the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, have reached the quarter mark of the 2012-13 season. recently caught up with Preds Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton to get his progress report on the Ad’s season thus far.

How would you rate the Admirals’ progress this season?
I’ve liked our progress so far this season, even though our record might not reflect that. If you look at the schedule, we’ve played 15 of our first 20 games on the road. We have such a young team, with limited veteran presence. We’ve really been able to play as well as I think we should right now.

Were there any surprise players in the first quarter of the season?
For the most part, all of our players have played as we expected them to. Again, I have to stress that we’ve played three-quarters of our games this season on the road. We’ve lost Mike Moore, one of our veterans, our leader, our captain, to a broken thumb and he isn’t going to be back for at least another month. To lose Mike’s voice and presence in the locker room, but continue to play the way we have, speaks volumes to rest of our character players. Chris Mueller has stepped it up; Mark Van Guilder has been excellent as a leader; we put an “A” on Michael Latta as he’s started to show some leadership; Jonathon Blum and Victor Bartley have both stepped up. Now that Ryan Ellis is back in the lineup, he’s been showing us what he can do from a leadership standpoint. We’ve had some guys who have taken it upon themselves to step up and fill the shoes of very big players who have been critical for us this season.

How have Ryan Ellis, Gabriel Bourque and Taylor Beck rebounded from their injuries?
They’ve been good – they can be better; that’s how I would like to phrase it. With Bourque and Ellis having NHL experience, playing here in Nashville for the majority of last season, speaks volumes to what they should be able to do at the AHL level.

Ryan is just now getting back into the lineup and getting his timing down. He’s still in a feeling out process as far as his injury is concerned. We are looking for him to be able to control and execute more on the power play for us. On the defensive side, he has been excellent. He’s improved his defensive game, his skating has improved and his strength has improved. I want him to see him elevate his game a little bit more on the power play.

Gabriel had an injury and then he was suspended for a couple of games. He can still do more – he can produce more, he can put more points on the board and he can bring intensity back to his game. When he plays with intensity, it is contagious for the rest of our team.

Beck has only played a couple games since coming back from his injury. The other night, he looked like he was just trying to get his feet back underneath him. I expect a lot more from him as we progress here. He started the season out excellent; he really was one of our better players early on. He was pushing the pace, getting pucks to the front of the net and he was headed in the right direction – he just needs to get his comfort level back.

What are your thoughts on the Daniel Bang-Austin Watson-Patrick Cehlin line?
They have been very good. The two big bodies in Bang and Watson have been able to control the corners, and Cehlin has been very good supporting them through their cycles and getting to lose pucks.

Watson has done a very good job. We started him on the wing this year, but he showed us how mature he was, so we moved him back to the center spot. Since then, we’ve moved him up to the second line and arguably, he’s been our best player – both in point production and two-way play. He’s been excellent on the penalty kill and he has also earned some power-play time. He is definitely headed in the right direction.

How has the defensive corps gelled together this season?

I really like our defensive corps this season. Losing Mike Moore did not help by any means, but it has created an opportunity for other guys to play. Scott Valentine has been one of our better defensemen recently. He has been the physical element that we are looking for; he’s skating with more confidence, he’s moving the puck with more confidence and his game is really elevating itself to where he can eventually push for playing time with the big club.

How is Dean Evason’s first season with the team/organization going thus far?
Dean has been very professional and his experience has been very good for the team. I would categorize him as a players’ coach. After playing as long as he did, he has a pulse on what is going on in the locker room. He understands how and when you let guys have a little bit of rope. Dean is a very good communicator and he wears his heart on his sleeve – just like he did when he was a player. He understands when to give guys a kick and when they need a pat on the back. He played a very intense style and it is very similar to how a lot of our guys play, so those players have gravitated to him because of that. Our entire staff is much closer this year than they have been in years past – not only the coaching staff, but the medical staff, the training staff and the front office staff are all meshing together really well.

What players do you expect to challenge for playing time at the NHL level in the near future?
I think there are several candidates to push for time in Nashville in the near future. Mattias Ekholm is someone we are going to give a long look to. I mentioned Valentine earlier. Victor Bartley was excellent for us last year and he continues to be a solid defenseman for us. You look at guys like Beck, Mueller, Bang, Watson and Latta – for a sandpaper element. We really have a lot of pieces, depending on what we need, that can fill in at the NHL level. The good thing is that our coaches here in Nashville have become very familiar with the guys down in Milwaukee because they are able to watch them more than they would during the season. Usually they don’t have time to watch video and focus on how these guys are playing. To me, it is a great advantage, not only for the players, but for coaches to make future assessments.

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